Monday, April 28, 2008

Today In History; James Monroe, Fifth U.S. President

1758: The fifth president of the United States, James Monroe, was born in the colony of Virginia. After attending the College of William and Mary and serving in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, Monroe returned to Virginia, where he practiced law and in 1783 was elected to the Continental Congress as a representative.

In 1787, Monroe began to serve in the Virginia Assembly and in the next year he was chosen to be a delegate to the Virginia Convention considering ratification of the new U.S. Constitution. But Monroe voted against ratification; he believed in the direct election of presidents and senators and was insistent on the inclusion of a bill of rights. His efforts, among others, ensured that the Bill of Rights became the first ten amendments to the Constitution when it was finally ratified in 1791.

Monroe had great diplomatic skills and was sent to France to represent the new nation first by President Washington and later by President Jefferson. While in France he was influential in negotiating the terms of the Louisiana Purchase. In 1816, Monroe was elected president and served two terms in office, during which time he signed the Missouri Compromise, oversaw the Seminole Wars, and expanded U.S. territories through the acquisition of the Floridas. But most people probably associate Monroe with his foreign policy as embodied in the Monroe Doctrine.

Monroe was concerned about the newly independent countries in Latin America and he did not want Spain and its allies to reclaim them. Issued as an address to Congress in 1823, Monroe repeated the U.S. policy of neutrality in any European conflicts. He also declared that the United States would not allow any country to recolonize any of their former Latin American territories; the Western Hemisphere was closed for new colonies. The Monroe Doctrine was the first significant foreign policy statement by the U.S. and many would argue that it set the course of the history of the Western Hemisphere thereafter.

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